Turkish government has decided to seize all assets of Reza Zarrab and his close relatives over spying charges as part of the ongoing probe launched by the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office on Friday.
The controversial Iranian-Turkish gold trader Zarrab is the US prosecution’s ‘star witness’, whose prosecution over Iran sanctions-busting in Manhattan has drawn sharp criticism from Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, .
The order came from Hasan Yılmaz, İstanbul deputy chief prosecutor on Friday. The anti-terrorism department of the country’s police is also investigating him, it said. The name of Zarrab’s daughter Alara Zarrab was also mentioned in the order of the prosecutor.
According to the reports in Turkish media, the decision was taken as a measure to prevent Zarrab from smuggling his property outside Turkey. The names of 23 people including relatives and members of his close circle were mentioned as persons whose property was seized.
Zarrab is testifying as a witness on behalf of US prosecutors in a trial of an executive of state-run Halkbank on charges of evading sanctions on Iran. Zarrab, who is a co-conspirator in the plot, said in testimony yesterday that President Erdoğan and several of his ministers were complicit.
The businessman is known to own a villa on the Bosporus in İstanbul, at least one luxury country home, several businesses, a yacht, private jet and luxury cars. His wife is Turkish popstar Ebru Gündeş.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Friday he hoped Zarrab would “turn back from his mistake” in cooperating with US prosecutors, reiterating Ankara’s view that the criminal trial in New York was aimed at putting pressure on Turkey and its economy.
Turkish government is also planning to apply to the United Nations (UN) over the Zarrab trial in the US, says the US cannot try Turkish citizens, according to a report by Erdoğan regime’s mouthpiece Daily Sabah on Friday.
Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab was arrested in Miami in March 2016 upon his entry in the US for evading a US-imposed sanctions on Iran with multiple money transfers in a volume of tens of billions of dollars.
Zarrab testified in New York federal court on Thursday that Turkey’s then-prime minister and current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in a scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran, Reuters reported.
Zarrab also said for the first time on Thursday that Turkey’s Ziraat Bank and VakıfBank were involved in the scheme and that former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan signed off with Erdoğan on the operation, according to the Daily Beast.
“The prime minister at that time, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan … had given instructions, had given an order, for [Ziraat and Vakif banks] to start doing the trade,” Zarrab testified.
Zarrab is cooperating with US prosecutors in the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive of Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank accused of helping launder money for Iran.
Zarrab told jurors that he ran an international money laundering scheme to help Iran evade US sanctions and spend its oil and gas revenues abroad. He said he helped Iran use funds deposited at Halkbank to buy gold, which was smuggled to Dubai and sold for cash, Reuters said.
US prosecutors have charged nine people in the case, although only Zarrab and Atilla have been arrested by US authorities. Prosecutors said the defendants were part of a scheme from 2010 to 2015 that involved gold trades and fake purchases of food to give Iran access to international markets, violating US sanctions.
Gold trader Zarrab said Atilla helped design the transactions along with Halkbank’s former general manager, Süleyman Aslan, and that he paid bribes of more than 50 million euros plus $7 million to Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, Turkey’s economy minister at the time, to further the scheme, as well as to Aslan. He also said on Wednesday that Çağlayan asked for 50 percent of the profits generated by the scheme, which was being run through state-owned Halkbank.
It was Çağlayan who told him of Erdoğan’s approval for Ziraat Bank and Vakıfbank to participate in the scheme, Zarrab said.
The Turkish government has said that Çağlayan acted within Turkish and international law, and Halkbank claims all its transactions complied with national and international regulations.
The Reuters report also said Zarrab admitted on Thursday that he had tried to duplicate his scheme in China but that Chinese banks realized it had something to do with Iran and shut him down.